Watching the Steubenville rape case turn from a depressing New York Times headline to a full-on, three-ring media circus has been horrifying, and not just because of the details of the alleged assault. There’s something about the grainy videos and defensive authorities that feels a little too close to ripped-from-the-headlines crime dramas like CSI and Law & Order. There’s also something that feels pretty gross about watching it unfold in real life, and not being able to look away.
If you want to feel truly confused about what, exactly, is making you feel so yucky about following this case, look no further than the story of Michael Nodianos, who can be seen in cell-phone videos taken that night and publicized by the hacking collective Anonymous. Nodianos is no victim here. He’s on tape saying reprehensible things like, “She is so raped right now.” And people have, understandably, lashed out. It seems he’s no longer enrolled at Ohio State and has received threats.
But the discussion of Nodianos has a tawdry feel, too. This isn’t just a cry for accountability. It’s rubbernecking at best, vigilante justice at worst. Most sexual assaults aren’t even reported, let alone blown up into national news stories. Are we really voicing our support for assault survivors when we share leaked videos and hit refresh on constantly updated articles about which celebrities are now rallying to the cause? When does our morbid fascination actually begin to feed the rape culture we say we hate?
The high-level narrative that most headline-dominating rape cases seem to follow goes like this: An awful sexual assault is committed. Because we all agree that rape is awful, we get together to point out how awful the accused perpetrators are. We pile on the shame. After the dust has settled, though, we’re not left with better services for victims of assault. We’re not left with safe spaces in which young people of all genders can discuss the factors they see as contributing to rape culture. We’re not collectively more supportive of women who come forward to report they were raped by an acquaintance.
What we’re usually left with is a lingering notion that rape is primarily (or exclusively) perpetrated by really bad guys, and they are the only ones to blame. Whatever happened at those keggers in Steubenville, it’s pretty clear that this particular assault, and the fallout from it, are not a common situation. In most cases, the accused aren’t caught on video, aren’t exposed by an international group of hackers, and aren’t instantly vilified as really bad guys. Labeling it a “he said, she said” situation is a far more common reaction. We can see this play out in statistics about most women’s reluctance to come forward and name their attackers. And sometimes we even see it in the headlines, like the case of Los Angeles cops who “forced sex acts” with drunk women. Rapes are sometimes committed by those we’ve labeled “good guys.” And pretending that they aren’t doesn’t make it any easier for survivors to report.
If we’re all bystanders in cases like Steubenville, casually implicated in advancing this narrative, are we also, like Michael Nodianos, somewhat accountable? This seems to be the principle under which Anonymous is operating: We all bear some sort of responsibility for creating a culture of rape, so we’re all on the hook for ending it. But I’m not convinced that all of our righteous anger — our shaming the perpetrators and bystanders in such a public way — actually helps dismantle rape culture.
The question, it seems, is how to turn our gawking into something productive — and not just for the victim in whatever case is currently making headlines. This infographic (and this helpful corrective to some misleading stats in it) are a good start. They zoom out the lens, make us pay attention to the epidemic rather than one outlier example. The sad truth is that most sexual assaults don’t make for a good SVU narrative arc. They appear far less dramatic, far less clear-cut. And it’s only when we start collectively acknowledging that will justice really be served.
Most Viewed Stories
How Angelina Jolie Won the First Big Battle in Her Divorce
25 Famous Women on Being Alone
It’s Time to Get Over Your White Feelings and Start Taking Action for Black Lives
22 Intimate Lost Photos of Marilyn Monroe
Everything We Know About Brad Pitt’s Plane Incident
Jaden Smith on the Many Subtle Flavors of Water
Taylor Swift’s Squad Begged Kim Kardashian for Mercy
Gigi Hadid Fought Back Against a Creepy Stranger Who Grabbed Her
Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo Unveiled Their Baby on Instagram
The 6 Best Denim Shops on Etsy
From Our Partners
powered by PubExchange
The Cut’s Latest Love and War FeaturesAva DuVernay on Hollywood Racism, Modern-Day Slavery, and Why She’s Still an Optimist
The director, whose new documentary The 13th chronicles America’s history of racial subjugation, talks to Rebecca Traister about Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the modern criminal-justice system.What No One Tells Couples Trying to Conceive
It helps to be rich.The Hidden Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race
A segregated unit of mathematicians born of desperation during World War II became the secret to NASA’s success.Slut-Shaming Squids Are Everywhere
The “Bermuda Square” comic strip is back.Santigold’s New Video Is the Result of a Spontaneous Run-in With Kara Walker
The collaboration that dreams are made of.Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield Spotted Together Again, Love Might Be Real
They could be back together ahh!Teen, Forced to Go on Vacation With Her Family, Calls 911
The logical decision.Report: Hearst Fired Seventeen EIC Michelle Tan During Her Maternity Leave
Tan had been at the magazine for about two years.Good Morning America Host Amy Robach Apologizes for Saying ‘Colored People’ on Air
She quickly apologized.Unknown NFL Player Tries to Get Attention by Asking Aly Raisman Out in Video
That’s one way to do it.
Marissa Cooper is poised for a comeback ... maybe.California Votes to Remove Time Limit on Prosecuting Rape Cases
In light of the Bill Cosby case.Beyoncé’s Behind-the-Scenes Lemonade Photos Belong in a Museum
She had the "Boycott Beyoncé" sign already in formation on set.The Rise of the Male Celebrity Full-Frontal
An ex-publicist explains.Gabby Douglas Will Be a Miss America Judge
The gold-medal gymnast will help choose the 2017 pageant winner.Camille Becerra’s Photo Diary of Rockaway Beach
An ideal trip to add and cross off your summer bucket list.Sorry Nerds, Ian McKellen Won’t Officiate Your Expensive Lord of the Rings–Themed Wedding
Not even for $1.5 million.Miles Teller Is Still Upset About Being Called a Dick
He wants to set the record straight.Why Parents Shouldn’t Talk About Weight With Their Teens
New guidelines seek to banish weight talk.UVA Student Assaulted at Knifepoint During Orientation Weekend
But some students weren't notified until 24 hours later.